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Picking up where The Lost Queen
left off, The Forgotten Kingdom
begins in AD 573, as the imprisoned Languoreth awaits news of her family in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken, and Uther Pendragon’s Dragon Warriors. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his fellow warriors must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her to follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.
In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way to power for the ambitious adherents of the new religion of Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to maintain her marriage to the Christian heir to the kingdom of Strathclyde. Worse yet, the new king of the Angles is bent on expanding his territory at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artùr, may be the only man who can unite the Christians and the pagans to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him—he must become the man known to history as Myrddin.Discussion Questions
1. The Forgotten Kingdom
begins with the same cryptic introductory fragment that appeared in The Lost Queen
, about a skeleton found in Dunipace, Scotland, by quarrymen in the 1830s (p. xv). Why do you think this is the case? Do you have any guesses as to how it relates to the Lost Queen Trilogy?
2. Angharad repeats her mother’s words, saying that “our hearts are like birds, pricked full of feathers, and that each time we say good-bye, a feather will fall. One for a friend, two for a sweetheart. Three for a child” (p. 10). What role do feathers play in the novel?
3. On page 19, Angharad has a vision of “a Thing” at the stones of Wilburn, a beast that Diarmid later identifies as a coming war. How does this beast recur throughout the story, both physically and metaphorically?
4. When they meet, Lailoken warns Eira that “if you wish to play servant, you might learn to speak like one” (p. 47). Multiple characters disguise their identities in this book, either by using a false name or omitting information, while retaining some of their habits. How do these deceptions help or hinder their experiences?
5. In the Battle of Arderydd, before he flees with the body of Gwenddolau, Lailoken notes in his anguish that “Fendwin was a brother. Fendwin was a friend. I sobbed into the chaos. ‘That was my nephew. That was my boy’” (p. 90). War pits families, enemies, and allies against one another in this book. How does this affect each of the three narrators? How does this war differ from the ones you’ve learned about?
6. On Samhain, Languoreth is invited to light the need-fire, although “the blaze was lit by the Cailleach—it had always been so” (p. 141). What is the significance of this scene? How does it address growing tensions in the court of Tutgual and among the Kingdom of Strathclyde and its neighbors?
7. As the men of Strathclyde parade home with their trophies from Caer Gwenddolau, Languoreth notes of the Dragon Warriors that “Theirs would become a forgotten kingdom” (p. 176). This notion of a “forgotten kingdom” is repeated toward the end of the book as well (p. 384). Why do you think this phrase was chosen for the novel’s title?
8. Angharad is aided in one of the most difficult parts of her journey by Brother Thomas, saying of him “He has been my protector, and he is a friend” (p. 240). Brother Thomas is a culdee, while Angharad is training to become a Wisdom Keeper and later a priestess. How does the tension between the Old Way and Christianity reveal itself in this novel? What does each of the narrators think of the divide between religions?
9. During the Bull’s Sleep, the Keeper of the Falls tells Lailoken, “Your days are my days. Soon you will see” (p. 256). Do you believe that this comes to pass? Does it give you any clues to the trajectory of the next book in the series?
10. Artùr, whom we know as King Arthur, appears for the first time in this novel. Is Artùr as you expected him? How so, or why not?
11. Part IV (beginning on p. 335) takes place six years after the previous events of the novel. Why do you think the author chooses to make this jump in time?
12. There are two failures of messengers—Rhydderch’s man sent to trade for Angharad before the battle was killed, and Eachna never sent a messenger to Strathclyde to tell of Angharad’s safety. How do these events affect Angharad’s journey? Do you think she would have continued her training if she had been reunited with her parents? Would the battle at the Caledonian Wood have ended differently without her vision?
13. When caught in her deception, Eachna tells Angharad that “Long ago, I gave Strathclyde a daughter. And with your arrival, the Gods saw to it a daughter was returned. Your place is here, with me” (p. 353). Given what Elufed has told Languoreth of her early life (p. 338), do you believe Eachna’s actions are justified? How does Angharad resemble her mother and grandmother? Does she live out their earlier dreams?
14. Ariane returns toward the end of the novel and brings Angharad to train with her at Woodwick Bay. Did you expect to see her again after The Lost Queen
? Do you think she will return once more in the final book of the trilogy?
15. There is some resolution at the end of The Forgotten Kindgom
, with the Angles having been defeated in the climactic battle, but there are echoes of the end of The Lost Queen
, with Myrddin closing out the text (p. 458). Where do you believe the story will go in the next book?Enhance Your Book Club
1. There are many interpretations and retellings of the story of King Arthur’s court. Discuss those you’ve read or seen. How do they compare to the Lost Queen Trilogy?
2. Get out a contemporary map of the United Kingdom and compare it to the map at the front of this book. What similarities or differences do you note?
3. Has anyone in your group heard of any of the historical figures mentioned here? Choose one to research and share your discoveries. How did you come to hear of that person? If you haven’t heard of any, why might that be?
4. In The Forgotten Kingdom
, rivers and trees have voices for those who learn how to listen. Take a walk in nature prior to your book club meeting. Sit beneath a tree or beside a body of water to listen. You can write in a journal or simply just be. Collect one “found item” from your walk and bring it to your meeting to share. Discuss your experience.
5. Visit the author’s website, signepike.com, for more on the Lost Queen Trilogy and further resources for book clubs.Author Q&A Q: The Forgotten Kingdom
is the sequel to The Lost Queen
, moving a number of years ahead and containing additional perspectives. How did the process of writing a sequel differ from drafting the first book in the series? A:
I loved the freedom of being able to travel in this book. It was important that The Lost Queen
belong solely to Languoreth, but I did feel hampered at times when I couldn’t show all the things I knew were happening beyond her personal experience. The Forgotten Kingdom
gave me the space to explore writing from multiple perspectives and to travel even more deeply into the early medieval world, but it meant a tremendous amount of new research. There’s lots on that in the Author’s Note, so I won’t repeat it here, but that was certainly one of the biggest challenges. Another concern was making sure that a reader could pick up this book without having read the first. I think that’s really important in a series. It was difficult trying to provide enough backstory in places without slowing down the narrative, especially when readers are stepping into such a complex, clan-based system—and The Lost Queen
took place over a span of twenty-three years. The sequencing of chapters in this book was a monster of a jigsaw puzzle. At one point I printed all the chapters out and spread them out across the floor just so I could see the movement of the book more clearly and shift events with my hands.Q:
You’re working in a time period when the historical record is scant. How do you fill in gaps in the research and knowledge of this era? A:
To begin with, I read as much as I possibly can. The reading never stops! Museums are incredibly helpful when it comes to filling in gaps, because at least you can look at artifacts that came before and after and base decisions on those. But when it comes to things like Pictish and Brythonic pre-Christian religion, reliable sources become even more limited. I can take only the accounts, stories, and traditions that exist and then follow my own instincts. I did some study of comparable religions, especially those of cultures whose deities were represented in nature. But the Scots, too, have a very long memory. There were things I learned in traveling there and speaking with the people I encountered that made their way onto the page, and the book was much richer for that.Q:
A substantial part of this series is based on the lore of King Arthur’s court, and particularly the character of Merlin (Lailoken here). What is it like to write about the historical underpinnings of a highly mythologized story? A:
This is a great question! To me, the myth is a being created by too many masters. From the scribes who first committed oral tradition to parchment all the way through to Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory, the tales were appropriated for myriad reasons throughout their long history. The end result is marvelous, but it’s also rather tainted and nonsensical. So, I focus on the most authentic elements I can find: the oldest lines of the epic poetry that scholars can linguistically identify; the artifacts; the drive of human emotion—that doesn’t change over time. I focus on the historical figures themselves and their political involvements as mentioned in chronicles. Since I began writing The Lost Queen
several years ago, I also started tuning out anything related to Arthur and Merlin that didn’t feel right to me, things that didn’t appear to come from this perspective. It turned out that was pretty much everything, especially the TV shows and films related to the Arthurian legend.Q:
Your descriptions of the landscape are astonishingly lush and vivid. How do you re-create the natural world in the series, knowing how much has been lost through the centuries? You address the Fortingall Yew in the Author’s Note; how did you come across the tree to begin with? Did you discover the presence of Fortingall through the yew? A:
The natural world was always revered in my family, so as a little girl I spent a lot of time in forests and mountains. My childhood was swimming in waterfalls, and my father introduced me to nature writing when I was young, and I still read it. Scotland has a tremendous amount of beautiful wild space still, but visiting arboretums on my last trip helped me better describe the native trees that Languoreth and Lailoken would have known in their time, most of which were ravaged by centuries of deforestation and replaced by cash-crop pine plantations. I visited Fortingall in Perthshire to see the yew because I’m fond of old trees. I didn’t expect the informational sign, which showed a re-creation of the ancient monastic site and also suggested it was a place of pre-Christian worship prior to that. The rest is my invention. We don’t know who resided in the fort that overlooks the site, but there can be little question that Fortingall was a special place for the people of ancient Pictland.Q:
There’s a lot of talk about the agency of women in historical fiction, especially during eras when women were not typically in positions of power. How do you grapple with that when writing Languoreth and Elufed, who operate within the male-dominated court of Tutgual, versus characters like Eachna and Ariane, who occupy positions of power among women? A:
In my books, I hope to show multiple manifestations of power. For so many years now, the majority of the world has been living in a male-driven society that diminishes women and demonizes our very nature. That has been to the detriment of humankind. That’s not to say that women are infallible, but in matriarchal societies, listening tends to be valued over speaking. Balance tends to rule over exploitation—of people, of land, of food and resources. Though we know very little of the Picts—and the matrilineal theory is debated—there can be no doubting the fact that as a species, we are at a tipping point, disastrously out of balance. In this painful and hard-fought awakening that’s occurring now for minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community, we need to rely upon our “feminine” properties more than ever if we’re going to achieve the evolution we so desperately need. Listening, discussion, intellect over irrational action, peaceful protest, caring for the collective rather than the self—these elements should not be gendered, but history argues otherwise. Limitations arise in every life, in every era, but I truly believe, as Ariane says, “We may not always have the choice we would like, but we always have a choice.” What I hope to show in my books is that—male or female—you are the principal sovereign of your own life. You may not control your circumstances or what is done to you, but you are the sole decider of how you react and the choices that you make. The women and men in my novels are all making choices. In the end, ours is a human journey, not a gendered one.Q:
While The Lost Queen
was primarily about Languoreth, The Forgotten Kingdom
makes her daughter Angharad a central character. What was it like to consider two different women and the mother-daughter relationship between them? A:
I’m enjoying exploring Languoreth and Angharad’s connection—and loss of connection—in these books, and Languoreth’s relationships with her other children, too. Gladys and Cyan played rather scant roles in this book, but may well appear in greater relief in the next installment.Q:
Who is your favorite character—either a narrator or another—to write about? A:
Diarmid is a favorite, I’ll admit. His voice came through so clearly as I was writing, and he ended up making a much larger role for himself than I had intended. Writing Languoreth feels like slipping into my favorite pair of shoes, but in this book, I also loved spending time inside Lailoken’s head. He has a sardonic sense of humor even in the most difficult of times, and he’s flawed. He doesn’t predict the events that transform him—that’s what makes him human.Q:
There are a number of terrifying battle scenes in the novel. Which scene did you find most difficult to write? A:
Rhys’s death and the Battle of Arderydd in general were by far the most brutal. I was fortunate enough to visit the site where many believe the battle took place. I stood on the hill looking out over the pastures and felt this nauseating sense of honor, grief, and dread all mingled together. I was very moved by what I experienced there and carried that with me as I wrote those scenes; what it felt like to stand on the hilltop where the fort had once been, knowing there was no chance of survival. It all relates back to this idea of personal sovereignty. They must have been able to see quite clearly that they were outnumbered. They fought anyway, and they were slaughtered. It’s an old and painful scenario that has replayed itself again and again throughout history. But this battle in particular, I think, deserves far more attention than it’s been given.Q: The Forgotten Kingdom
is the second book in the Lost Queen Trilogy. Without spoiling anything, can you give us a hint of what’s coming next? A:
War with the Angles, of course! And there will be elements from book two that will show up in surprising ways in book three—little moments and events that resurface. I know the ending of Lailoken and Languoreth’s story, but truth be told, I don’t know how many books it will take to reach it. That’s part of the magic. So much happens in the writing process. I may begin the writing day with one goal in mind: Get Angharad to a river. But if I force it, it doesn’t work. Some of my favorite elements of The Forgotten Kingdom
came when I tried to get somewhere else, failed, and just gave up and obeyed the whispers. That’s how Angharad came to meet Brother Thomas. One hundred percent of the foundation is research, but once I have the main historical elements, I have to sit and dream the story. It’s a terrifying way to try to make a living. But for me, the magic part of writing is this partnership. The writer shows up with all their tools, and then something else steps in. Call it the muse, the subconscious—what we name it doesn’t much matter. It’s the allowing that’s important. I’m grateful to the readers who understand that this process takes time.